Iran is supplying the Taliban in Afghanistan with the same bomb-making equipment it provides to insurgents in Iraq, according to British military intelligence officers.
US Army General Dan McNeill, the commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, said that the discovery of more than 50 roadside bombs and timers in lorries crossing the border from Iran last month proves that Iran’s Quds Revolutionary Guards are actively supporting the Taliban.
The allegation will add to fears that the escalating war of words between Iran and the West could end in armed conflict between the two.
British special forces, believed to be from the Special Boat Service, played a prominent role in tracking and intercepting two lorries that crossed from Iran into Afghanistan’s Farah Province on Sept 5.
“I cannot see how it is possible for at least the Iranian military, probably the Quds force, to not have known of this convoy,” said Gen McNeill.
He claimed the vehicles contained materials to make explosively formed penetrators (EFPs), a type of roadside bomb. Britain and America have accused Iran of supplying such bombs to Iraqi insurgents.
Gen McNeill added: “The observation of a number of British officers who served in southern Iraq was that [the bomb timers] were relatively common there and that they originated from Iran.”
A spokesman for the British embassy in Kabul said yesterday: “This confirms our view that elements within Iran are supporting the Taliban. We have previously raised the issue of arms to the Taliban with the Iranians and will
continue to do so.” Last month, Lt Col Patrick Sanders, the commander of British forces in Basra, said troops there were engaged in a “proxy war” with Iran, which was supplying Shia militias.
EFPs work by concentrating explosive force through a concave copper plate, which is projected as a molten missile through a vehicle’s armour.
To work properly, the components have to be made to factory specifications.
Prior to September’s find, there had been two discoveries of EFPs in Afghanistan. While they raised suspicions of Iranian involvement, they were crude by comparison and the Nato commander had never before yesterday pointed the finger directly at the Iranian military.
Gen McNeill added: “These EFPs have caused me some anxiety. I would say whoever put these together had the benefit of not only knowledge, but also some technology and machines.”
Iran, a Shia Muslim state, has denied that it was supplying the Taliban, pointing out that it was a Sunni militia. Iranian officials allege that American and British rhetoric is part of a propaganda campaign to build a case for war over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
The Americans have recently begun work to expand Shindand airbase, in western Afghanistan, which is within 50 miles of Iran’s border.
Afghan officials insist that this is in preparation for Shindand becoming the main base for the newly formed Afghan Army Air Corps and say they have a written undertaking by the US government not to use the bases for military operations against Iran.
Last month, the new head of the Quds Revolutionary Guard force, Gen Mohammed Ali Jaafari, warned that a US attack on Iran would be met with a response directed against US interests in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“If the enemy wants to take any impudent action, the Islamic republic will for sure give a decisive and teeth-breaking response,” he said.